SYDNEY, AUSTRALA - New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is expected to return to power in Saturday’s general election. Ardern has been praised globally for her response to the Christchurch mosque attacks in 2019 and the COVID-19 pandemic. But critics point to her coalition government’s failure to tackle child poverty.
Jacinda Ardern is the type of leader New Zealand has never seen before. She has several million social media followers, and she won global acclaim for her sensitivity after a gunman murdered 51 people at two mosques in the city of Christchurch last year. Her swift response to the threat of COVID-19 has also attracted widespread praise.
Ardern’s center-left Labour party came to power in 2017 even though it lost the election. Under New Zealand’s proportional representation voting system, it managed to put together a coalition with a small group of nationalist lawmakers and the Green party.
Her main challenger in Saturday’s poll is a seasoned politician nicknamed “Crusher” Collins.
When the leader of the conservative National Party, Judith Collins, was the police minister in a previous government, she supported a policy to crush the cars of repeat traffic offenders. She has clashed with Ardern during the campaign, calling the prime minister a “liar "over testing protocols for COVID-19 at New Zealand’s closed international borders.
Political commentator Ben Thomas told Radio New Zealand that personal insults will not sway voters.
“This kind off language does not come from a position of strength,” he said. “It is an attempt to provoke Ardern into responding to Collins, you know, putting a spotlight on a confrontation between those two leaders, and yet trying to make National seem a little bit more relevant in the dying days of an election that they certainly do not look on track to win.”
Much of the campaign has been around New Zealand’s response to COVID-19. The government’s decision to close its international borders to foreign nationals in March, and a series of strict domestic lockdowns appear to have been well received by voters, although the virus has pushed the nation into recession.
New Zealand has had about 1,800 coronavirus infections and 25 deaths.
Analysts have said the pandemic has helped the Ardern government avoid greater scrutiny over its failures to reduce child poverty and build more affordable housing.
The South Pacific nation adopted the German-style Mixed Member Proportional voting system in 1996. That has led to coalition governments ever since. Seven seats are reserved for Indigenous Maori candidates in the 120-seat national parliament.
About 3.5 million people are expected to vote in Saturday’s poll.